Bit of Wit: Gone with the wind
A male colleague asked me in all innocence: “Sir, is your gas linked to Aadhaar?” I replied in all seriousness, “The subsidy scheme is for LPG, not for my gas or yours.” Stumped by my googly, he just gave a sheepish grin and instantly got back to work. Had I tried this line with a female staffer, she would’ve unleashed a tight slap, or worse, slapped sexual harassment charges on me. That sums up the funny taboo about those two F-words: flatulence and farting.chandigarh Updated: Mar 22, 2015 08:40 IST
A male colleague asked me in all innocence: “Sir, is your gas linked to Aadhaar?” I replied in all seriousness, “The subsidy scheme is for LPG, not for my gas or yours.” Stumped by my googly, he just gave a sheepish grin and instantly got back to work. Had I tried this line with a female staffer, she would’ve unleashed a tight slap, or worse, slapped sexual harassment charges on me. That sums up the funny taboo about those two F-words: flatulence and farting.
This fortnightly column has largely avoided toilet humour, especially after the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched, but it hasn’t shied away from matters of immense socio-cultural significance that originate below the belt. Now, we’ll talk about that unseen bodily activity which hits the nostrils or the ears in extreme cases, both together.
It’s an unfair world. You can get away with a high-decibel burp in public, since belching is seen as a spontaneous expression of a meal/drink enjoyed. But breaking wind is taken as a sign that all’s not well with your system and that you badly need Digene, Pudin Hara or Ramdev’s Pachak Hing Peda. The ‘outburst’ is neither forgotten nor forgiven by its victims. They laugh at you, rebuke you, make you feel like an outcast – just because you had one mooli parantha too many or taken a liberal helping of rajmah.
Alas, a great part of our lives is spent in making desperate efforts to suppress those in-house emissions. When suppression fails, we try camouflage, resorting to sound effects such as coughing or clearing our throat, clinking the cutlery, and tapping our feet even when no music is on. And when the stink becomes intolerable, we look at each other with an air of suspicion, as if someone has committed murder. Shackled by social fetters, how many of us have the guts to say out loud: “I DID IT”?
English satirist Jonathan Swift, best known for Gulliver’s Travels, went to the bottom of the matter in The Benefit of Farting (1722). He warned that our gas, when kept inside against its will, flies back to the head and “by its Fumes, disturb(s) the Brain.” The wise man advised that one should rather let go than go crazy, an opinion taken seriously even by doctors.
Talking of bum blasts, how can we ignore their lifelong lover, the one and only Khushwant Singh? In his bawdy historical novel Delhi (1990), the narrator’s three great joys of life are: sex, oil rubbed in a scalp full of dandruff, and a long satisfying fart. The more recent addition to the meagre literature on this subject is a trilogy by American rock-n-roll expert Jim Dawson, who shares his birthday with me (ask Lord Google for the date). In the first part, Who Cut the Cheese? (1999), he writes: “Farting is still such an anathema that people worry about its effects on their jobs, reputations, and love lives… Everything we eat turns to shit or internal gas, yet we act as if turds and farts don’t exist.”
But who says this is all about gas? There’s a philosophical aspect to the air affair. Here’s a gem of a quatrain which the irreverent Swift attributed to an unidentified Bishop:
If death doth come as soon as breath departs,
Then he must often die who often farts:
And if to die be but to lose one’s breath,
Then death’s a fart – and so a fart for death.
Dead or alive, I dream of a world where flatulence is guilt-free and the anal emanation enjoys the same social status as the oral one. To hell with global warming, it all boils down to being human. Ask Salman Khan, who played the ‘master blaster’ with aplomb in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.